The Practice and Design of “Humanizing” Learning Experiences

I was honored by an invitation from EdSurge to participate in a panelist discussion on How to Humanize Online Learning and Maximize Student Success (recording of webinar). I believe we had over 200 participants! As I reflect on yesterday’s panel conversation, and incredible participant comments and questions, I would have to say that my biggest takeaway around Humanizing is the word “caring”, as shared by my colleague, Di Xu. The concept of caring and empathy is woven throughout all the practices in Humanizing learning.

Given what the research tells us about the importance of Humanizing, intentionally and authentically humanizing the instruction is critical for students’ success.  In design, we can approach this through a variety of pedagogies, activities, and technologies that cultivate relationships and build community. I rely on many frameworks and theories, but one framework in particular is the Community of Inquiry (CoI) (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000), which looks at the intersection of teaching, cognitive, and social presence. I will speak to each of these through some examples.

With pedagogies, which is really about teaching presence, instructors can apply strategies that develop empathy and human connections. Essentially, this is about being authentic. A couple of examples that support this are:

  • Creating a welcome video where the instructor tells their story of who they are and perhaps their own experience as a student and how that has shaped their path.
  • Providing regular ‘touches’ or interactions with students. A personal example is in my online doctoral program where my instructor used video feedback. As a student, watching and listening to him, I truly felt like he was invested in my work, my growth in the course, and overall success. This was also conveyed in his non-verbals that can often be missed online

Along with pedagogies, we also humanize through the design of social learning activities. This emphasizes both social and cognitive presence. Creating opportunities where learners can collaborate with one another can connect them with one another and advance the learning outcomes because as construct meaning through shared purpose. This is also where instructors have opportunity to discover who their learners are, which is essential in connecting that cognitive element. Extending this to how they can inspire and reach them. An example of asocial learning activity is something I use in my blended, first year freshman course where humanizing is ever so important in creating a sense of belonging as these students transition into college life. In the first week, students participate in an online, asynchronous activity where they each “Share the Story of Their Name” supported by VoiceThread technology. Through video or audio they each share some aspect of their name, (e.g., where it comes from, what it means, background, nicknames, etc.) and reply to another another. I also share the story of my name as a way to connect to each of them. This is not only an early opportunity to bring themselves into the learning experience and share a bit of who they are, but it is also about celebrating and acknowledging the unique backgrounds and experiences that they each bring to the shared environment.

Finally, through the intersection of the pedagogy and the activities/content, we can leverage technologies to support the learning and connections. This is about how can we use digital tools to create opportunities where students feel like they belong in a community. One example is using digital technologies such as Issuu and Canvas to create an online, asynchronous “virtual conference”. (Remember the feeling you had at that great face-to-face conference where you networked others, shared your work, and walked away feeling inspired?) This is the premise behind the virtual conference where students present their culminating course experience/knowledge/skills by bringing in opportunity for peer-to-peer connections, insightful feedback, and a real-world interaction that shares their work more broadly.

Moving forward with Humanizing are these many opportunities to intentionally and authentically engage with our students. What are some of the things you do in your courses?

————-

Another nugget that Dr. Xu shared from her research, were the five things that students want from their online instructor:

  1. Clear expectations and instructions
  2. Timely responses
  3. Feedback to keep them on track
  4. Rubrics and checklists
  5. Weekly communication

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based
environment: Computer conferencing in higher education model. The Internet and
Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105.

 

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